9 design trends we'd like to see in 2019

2019 is fast approaching and we've already seen some interesting trend predictions when it comes the creative industry next year. But that's been about what the designers expect to see. What about what they'd actually like to see?

In this article, we speak to artists and designers at leading studios to find out their hopes, dreams and fervent wishes for the industry in the year ahead. From here, make sure you also check out our piece on typography trends for 2019.

01. Serious action on sustainability

Over the last few years, everyone’s been talking about making branding more environmentally sustainable. But in 2019, Sam Evans, senior planner at Turner Duckworth (opens in new tab), would like to see more concrete action.

“Brands have the power to shape our cultural landscapes,” he says. “Yet on the issue of sustainability, it often feels that those with sprawling ecological footprints talk the talk in reality; but don’t look further than their bottom line.”

He raises, for example, the issue of plastic. “It would be great to see some serious momentum behind big brands putting their money where their plastic is and using their power to make real changes across their design, packaging and supply chains, to catch up with consumer thinking and communicate clearly the wider importance of these actions.”


Adidas teamed up with Parley in 2018 to produce the first high performance products made from ocean plastic

Holly Kielty, creative director of Brand Language at Design Bridge (opens in new tab) has a similar wish. “In 2019. I’d like to see more conscientious design, where the murky greys of recycled plastic become a thing of beauty, substrates once thought ugly are celebrated, and more sustainable results are credited over and above the traditionally lauded illustration or typography,” she says. 

“The world demands that our industry takes action, and that means rethinking our established aesthetic codes and assumptions about commercial success, and shifting people’s perspectives on what ‘good’ design really is.”

Liz Herring, graphic designer at Greenwich Design (opens in new tab), suggests one practical step towards this. “I’d like to see a trend towards a more retro form of minimalism, particularly in our packaging,” she says. 

“I hope we’ll see less plastic packaging and a move towards buying our products loose. As a designer, this opens up opportunities for eco-friendly branding, whether that’s on simple paper bags or hessian shoppers. Just because we lose the packaging, it doesn’t mean we have to lose the design or branding.”

02. Responses to social issues

“2019 is likely to be another turbulent year for the UK,” says Alastair Holmes, associate creative director at This Place (opens in new tab). “So I'd like to see design play a part in promoting harmony, inclusion and responsibility. This could be in the form of promoting thoughtful consumerism, such as more sustainable food choices or better packaging. 

“I'd also like to see a design response to the growing issues around mental health and the use of social media, perhaps promoting honesty and realism over idealism and obsession with celebrity status,” he adds.

David Annetts, creative director at Design Bridge, agrees that these are areas in which designers can make a difference. “The design industry serves the diverse commercial interests of its clients, and by its very nature there are a lot of young people at the coalface doing the work,” he points out. 

Man at laptop with head in hands

Mental health is an issue that people are talking more about in the design industry

“This year I’ve noticed that the younger members of our team have been taking more interest in, having a stronger point of view on, and asking more questions about the ethics and purpose of the work they are producing. So I’d like to see this reflected in more of the briefs we receive from clients, enabling us to actively contribute to making positive change happen.”

When it comes to social issues, Clem Halpin, UK creative director at Bullet Proof (opens in new tab), would particularly like the business to look closer to home in 2019. “I hope this year that agencies will finally address poor working practices, their social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability to balance profit and purpose,” he says. 

“As mental health and happiness at work become ever more important in terms of recruitment, young designers will be less and less willing to work all-nighters, tolerate toxic bosses or to work for unethical or unhealthy clients. For the same reason – happiness – I also expect to see the drift away from London continue, with more and more agile creative agencies springing up to accommodate those designers who can’t or won’t work in London."

 Troy Wade, co-founder of Brown&co (opens in new tab) - a 'virtual agency which has no physical office - has a similar wish. "I’d like to see creative people taking their lives back," he says. "With the technology available right now, there is absolutely no justifiable reason for having to turn up at the same place and same time every day for work. 

"Not only will this new way mean happier and healthier people, but also a workforce that is more creative and more productive, as individuals within it can operate in ways that suit and stimulate them. People working in outmoded ways is not doing anybody any favours – clients, agencies and consumers all included."

03. Co-authored brands

“I’d like to see more brands invest in co-creation,” says Lee Fasciani, co-founder and creative director of Territory Projects (opens in new tab). “A number of successful new and existing brands invite the intended audience to co-create, ideate and validate. There is a transparency to this process that people appreciate; they invest time and energy knowing that they’re going to get a better experience because of it. 

Lego Flintstones

The Lego version of the Flintstones is one of many designs that have originated from the co-creation platform, Lego Ideas

“B2B, retail and automotive brands like DHL, Monzo, Lego, BMW have all realised the value of customer-driven innovation and have a clear strategy in place to empower their customers,” he continues.

“It would be great to see more businesses take influence from the digital product world and start to develop their brands with their target customers, getting them involved earlier in the process to create co-authored brands that would naturally have even more engagement with their audience because they’ve helped shape it.”

04. Greater understanding of AI

In 2018 AI was the biggest design industry buzzword. But it’s a phrase that’s misused as often as it’s used correctly. So Brett Lovelady, founder of ASTRO Studios (opens in new tab), the award-winning studio behind the design of the XBox360, would like to see that change in 2019. 

Adobe Max logo

The topic of AI was left, right and centre at this year's Adobe MAX (opens in new tab)

“I’m hoping that people will realise that not everything is AI, so they won’t call it that,” he explains. “Some things are just technology enhancements. Some are smarter or more intuitive than others, but most tech solutions are not predictive and learning; they’re just incremental advances and new features.”

He also hope that people will no longer be afraid of AI.  "If everyone jumps on the robots are on the rise, anti-AI wagon, it will stop in the street and that would be a huge loss of innovation and creativity momentum," he argues. "We’re human and still in control, so act like it, and experiment with tech just like any other medium.”

05. Less visual noise

Dan Bramham, senior designer at Greenwich Design, is among many who'd like to see less visual noise, and more well-considered design in 2019.

“I’d like to see design that is a little less showy and has more integrity; true brand value-based stuff, rather than excess fluff,” he explains. “I’d also like to see more use of simple yet well considered, more overtly functional design. There’s so much visual noise going on out there that as a consumer, I appreciate the gentle open spaces within a design; it’s like an oasis of calm and I'm more receptive to that.”

Julie Potter, graphic designer at Greenwich Design, expresses a similar desire. “I’d like to see designers and marketers cutting back the noise,” she urges. “I get a headache every time I go shopping, as a result of all the loud brash messages being catapulted at me. I’d like to see much simpler, calmer messaging; messaging that’s gentler and more human."

Keeley Laures, senior visual designer at This Place, would also like to see a calmer approach to design in 2019. “From a visual perspective, it would be nice to see the brutalism trend somewhat disappear – with an exception of niche groups because there's no denying that it has its place – and more emphasis on editorial design," she says.

Web brutalism graphic

Has the Brutalism (opens in new tab) trend had its day? 

“At the moment, we're seeing an increase in text-based sites ranging from large typography with marquee-style animations to large imagery and type treatment overlays with odes to Swiss poster design,” she continues. “While these styles have always been around, I think it's starting a segue into a site style that helps make content more consumable. 

"This aesthetic will also play a part in content structure as well; really closing in on what is important from a narrative perspective, as opposed to trying to tell the world anything and everything.”

It’s a shift that Nico Vargas, head of graphic design at DMS (opens in new tab), would like to see in animation too. “As a designer and creative animator, I love working with classic animation, going frame by frame to create beautiful, yet simple animation,” he says. "This classic style and process is time-consuming but produces fantastic results – I’d love to see more of this in 2019."

Of course, that’s only part of the story. “On the flip-side, photorealistic styles and animated typefaces are becoming more popular and something we look to carry on working with next year,” he notes. “However, over-stylised graphics look fantastic but can detract from the content we’re working with and lose clarity in the message.” 

06. Blurring of digital and physical channels

Ed Mitchell, brand experience and technology director at Design Bridge, is keen to see a move away from a strict division of digital and physical channels in 2019, and towards providing a good overall experience for the user. 

Woman shopping

Amazon Go's cashierless store has taken the blending of digital and physical to a new level

“I want to see more creatives explore how brands deliver experiences that pull, utilising data and user insights to create experiences that deliver value, purpose and meaning to consumers, rather than pushing content and messaging,” he explains. 

“Future creative thinking should be about generating more meaningful brand connections, demonstrating a real understanding and appreciation of consumers and what matters to them.”

07. The rise of 3D

While flat aesthetics have dominated digital design in recent years, gradients and drop shadows are slowly making their return, notes Andreas Chang, visual designer at This Place. 

“The difference now is how they are used,” he says. “Rather than being an execution of skeuomorphism, they’re used to provide depth and visual tension to our otherwise flat, and sometimes boring, designs.

Brit Awards logo

Gradients have been on the rise throughout 2018, as seen in this logo for the Brit Awards

“What I'd like to see as the next stage in this trend," he says, "is for designers to turn to actual 3D and its advanced capabilities for depth and shading, opening up a new space for digital design that has previously been dominated by games and industrial design. 

"With the power of modern computers and today’s sophisticated web browsers, 3D experiences are ready to explored and shared on a wider scale than ever."

08. New approaches to UI design

Ben Buckley, UI designer at This Place, also wants to see a move away from UI design trends that are now so ubiquitous, they’ve become cliches. 

“I believe it was Headspace's illustrator Chris Markland (opens in new tab) who was one of the first to kick off the trend for the use of grain and noise texture to create shadow,” he says. 

Intercom homepage

Ben Buckley wants to see a move away from flat vector illustrations in UI, such as this example on Intercom's site

“After that, I saw this in Intercom’s illustrations, and while I love both, I just kept seeing this dominance of big, bright, right-sided, hero 2D vector illustrations with a header to the left, and this format has been repeated over and over. 

"Yes, it's awesome and the formula works," he says. "But in 2019, I would love to see more abstract illustration. Enough of the 2D vector art.”

09. Vibrant and dynamic colours

“I’ve really enjoyed the trend for bright colours and I’d like to see it taken a step further in 2019,” says Kate Chandler, graphic designer at Greenwich Design.

 “I hope we’ll see more bold and playful colours and strong typographical designs. This lively, vibrant approach provides a refreshing antidote to some of the more depressing things happening in the world right now.”

United Way graphic

United Way used a specially design colour to make their 2018 campaign 'unignorable', as we reported here (opens in new tab)

When it comes to colours, Lovelady is looking forward to palettes that blend and morph dynamically. “It’s great to see colour blocking combos, fades, gradients, current and retro, but that’s not the future,” he believes. “I tend to think colours will transfigure more – transform and enhance movement – which is a great thing.  Perhaps this is due to digital screen overload, but I think blending and morphing colour palettes will begin to define our future states.”

He also predicts a concurrent rise in the popularity of tonal photos. “Juxtaposed to the vibration of digital visuals, photography will offset this with tonal, rich, monosaturated effects, often blended with tactile effected graphic elements,” he believes. “Grandma’s old postcard with modern content and features, perhaps. Nostalgic. Human. Or just a desire to feel differently about a subject? All of the above.”

So will these trends we’d like to see actually happen in 2019? That’s largely up to the industry itself, including most of the people reading this article. But right now, it's getting increasingly difficult to know what's likely to happen, even a few months from now. 

As Tyler Hendy, graphic designer at Wunderman (opens in new tab) points out: "Trends are getting old, faster, spreading further, wider and quicker, and it's all getting copied easier. Large commercial companies all the way down to small independent boutiques will have to embrace niche design trends if they want to stay relevant. Bigger brands will have to be agile and look to the unconventional aesthetics, spotting the trends in advance in an attempt to stand out. 

"Sharing things across the internet instantaneously will push us into two different directions. Two tribes. The pixel pushers and those who claim pixel perfection is a dead end. Total chaos and flawless order. Perfect consistency and intentionally imperfect. You decide."

But if the future is somewhat murky, one thing’s we can reckon we can predict with some certainty. In the words of Lovelady: “In 2019, 2020 itself will become a trend. Because it’s fun to say, has zeros, means perfect sight, looks really cool in type.  Not to mention reaching 2020 seems like a milestone of human achievement… at least it is in my book.” And who could argue with that?

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.